I first heard of the phenomena of “underground undergrads” through the This American Life show that aired on April 6, 2007.
Martha doesn’t like to talk about her future anymore. She’d wanted to go to med school, become an OB-gyn. And she’s exactly the kind of kid everyone roots for. She grew up in a poor, mostly immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles, where most people didn’t graduate from high school, and nobody talked about college. But Martha got into UCLA. She couldn’t believe it: UCLA.
She majored in chemistry, threw herself into six-hour lab sessions, ran a volunteer organization on campus. But the fact is, she can’t become a doctor. She can’t work at all in the United States, not legally anyway. She’s an undocumented immigrant; her mother brought her here from Mexico when she was nine. So now she’s a waitress, earning minimum wage, working off the books, and it may be the best job she can hope to get.
A bill called the Dream Act would offer conditional citizenship to those few kids, like Martha, who grow up in the United States and make it to college, or the military. If they get a degree, or finish their service, they become full citizens. Since it was proposed in 2001, the Dream Act has gathered powerful supporters from both the left and the right. But it keeps getting bogged down in immigration politics.
This piece aired as part of the April 7, 2007, edition of “This American Life.” It is a radio follow-up to “The Invisibles,” an award-winning article about the sad, inspiring, surreal lives of undocumented students at UCLA, and the bipartisan push in Congress to accept these kids — raised as Americans from a young age — as citizens.
This is one of those This American Life shows that leaves me sobbing, bawling hysterically at the knowledge of one woman’s sadness.
This week, authors of a student publication of UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education, Underground Undergrads, will read from their publication at Laney College in Oakland on Thursday January 2, at 2 and 4:15 PM.
This student publication, Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out, features the growing student movement around access to higher education for undocumented students. Written by the students themselves, eight moving stories of undocumented immigrant students from UCLA provide the focal point of Underground Undergrads. The stories are unique and diverse, but they all demonstrate the pain, financial hardship, and emotional distress these students face as well as their ultimate triumph when they graduate from UCLA. Underground Undergrads also serves as an educational and research tool by providing a summary of the history of legislation impacting undocumented students in higher education as well as a resource guide of organizations that advocate for student rights.
The author-students, along with Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, will be present to discuss the book.
Thursday’s event at Laney College is FREE and Open to the Public.